Translators: Scapegoats for Misunderstandings.

This is what has taken me all term to write. It seems so sad when I see it all fit so easily into this box. I had SO much information, ie. about 7 translations of the Bible. The problem wasn't getting enough information, the problem was fitting it all into approximatly 1000 - 1500 words.

Various editions of the bible often give very different translations for the same passage. These errors, either scribal or translational have, in effect, become a new form of borrowing for the English language. Millward defines borrowed words as “(a word) that has been introduced at some time from another language.” [1] While mistranslated words are not intentionally borrowed into the language, often when they are put into respected publications, such as translations of the bible, they are inherently accepted as legitimate English words. There are many words in the English language that are the result of mistranslations or scribal errors. There are also many examples of mistranslated words, especially in the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, where those words “once written in such a prestigious publication are accepted as proper English words.”[2]
The word scapegoat entered our lexicon in approximately 1530 when William Tyndale mistranslated the Hebrew “azazel”[3]. It is believed that Tyndale read the word as “ez ozel” which in Hebrew literally means “goat that departs”. Tyndale then most likely related this phrase to a ceremony conducted on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur by a Jewish high priest. On Yom Kippur, it is said that “the whole people of Israel must provide (the high priest) with two goats as victims for their faults…the two goats he will present before the Lord…one is to be the lords due, the other is for discharge…the one chosen for discharge must be presented before the Lord alive, to let intercession fall upon it and then be turned loose in the desert as to azazel”,[4] Tyndale interpreted the latter goat to be “azazel” or as he read it “ez ozel”, an escaped goat, and coined the term scapegoat. Scape is an aphetic form of the word escape, with the same meaning, thus a scapegoat, to Tyndale, was the goat that was released, or escaped into the desert.
Azazel is actually the name of a devil or demon in Jewish Mythology. Tyndale’s mistake was repeated many times in various translations of the bible including der ledige Bock, tragos aperkhomenos, and the French bouc émissaire. The Good News Bible, first published in 1966, referred to The Revised English Bible, first published in 1884, for restoring the original meaning and usage of the word Azazel as a demon. The Good News Bible even goes so far as to suggest that Azazel was the name of a desert demon. Along with most other current translations, both versions agree that Azazel was the demon to whom the second goat was sent, but also maintained the other meaning or interpretation of the word as “one who is blamed or punished for the mistakes or sins of others.”[5]
Another example of a mistranslated word is the word mystery. The word ‘mystery’ entered our language in the early 1300’s. Its non-theological meaning was “a hidden or secret thing”. In the classically theological sense the word means “religious truth via divine revelation, or the mystical presence of God.” The word could have come from the Latin mysterium of the Greek mysterion ‘a secret rite or doctrine’ or mystes, Greek for ‘to close or shut’. The Greek word mysterion was used correctly in Septuagint meaning a ‘secret counsel of God’. The Septuagint is the oldest known translation of the Bible from its original Hebrew into Greek. It is believed to have been translated in stages between the 3rd to 1st centuries, BC in Alexandria.[6] In the King James Version of the Bible, however, the word mystery is used to imply that we will never know, for example, what the second coming will be like. In the book of Hebrews, chapter one: The epistle of the blessed apostle Paul to the Hebrews, it is said that Paul starts by saying the second coming is as a ‘mysterion to a knave’. This implies to English readers that there is no way we could ever understand what the second coming could be like, when in actual fact the rest of the book of Hebrews goes on to describe it. The word mystery is mistranslated in the King James Version of the Bible as some idea that has a deep unknown or an unknowable idea beyond any hope of comprehension. The actual meaning is translated correctly in modern bibles as a ‘secret, or a secret soon to be revealed’.
The word ‘worship’ was also mistranslated. In Present Day English it is a noun and a verb. As a noun it most commonly means a “reverent honour and homage paid to God or to any object regarded as sacred”. As a transitive verb it means “to honour and love as a deity” or as an intransitive verb “to participate in religious rites of worship.” Etymologically the word ‘worship’ has been in our lexicon since Old English a worðscip, wurðscip or weorðscipe. In Old English times the word meant “the condition of being worthy or honoured or renowned praise.” It was first recorded in approximately 1300 as meaning “reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being”. The verb ‘to worship’ was first recorded circa 1200. During the translation of the Kings James Version of the Bible in 1611 one of the scribes mistranslated a word in Daniel 3:5. Even in newly printed bibles the mistake is carried on. Daniel 3:5 reads “as soon as you hear the sound of horn, flute, hard zither, dulcimer, pipe and other instruments of music, you are to fall down and worship the image of gold which King Nabuchodonosor has set up.”[7] The word ‘worship’ here is mistranslated; it should actually be ‘praise’. Hebrew did have the word worship, but in all other passages in which it appears in the bible, the word is referring to the posture a person should be in while ‘praising the Lord’. The word in Hebrew has nothing to do with the action of praising and the word is not a verb in Hebrew. The word in the King James Version of the Bible would have been more realistically translated as ‘grovel’, but John Bois, a translator of the King James Version of the Bible said in his footnotes “the word ‘grovel’ was inappropriate for what the text actually meant.”[8]
If one accepts as a given that the Bible, or other books translated from, or inspired by the original Hebrew texts, are well respected books among western and middle eastern culture, then the impact of mistranslations can surely be appreciated. While one cannot necessarily see the word ‘scapegoat’ as having any particular impact on society as a whole, the mistranslations of the words ‘worship’ and ‘mystery’ could affect many culture beliefs systems. For example in the Book of Hebrews a question could arise, is the second coming of Christ knowable or unknowable? The words ‘scapegoat’, ‘mystery’ and ‘worship’ are just three of the many mistranslated words in various editions of the Bible. When reading the Bible with a 21st century understanding of Present Day English, the exact meaning of the passages can very easily be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
[1] Millward, pg.46
[2] The English Bible from KJV to NIV: a History and Evaluation.
[3] Leviticus xvi:8,10,26, Original Hebrew Manuscript.
[4] Leviticus 16:5-10, Knox Version
[5] Lev.16:10 Revised Version, footnotes.
[6] Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 15, Published 1988.
[7] Knox Version, published 1963
[8] Translating for King James : Notes made by a translator of the King James’s Bible, translated (into PDE) by Ward Allen, 1969.

Thank God it's over!

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